BERLIN (AP) — Germany's highest criminal court has ruled that the country has jurisdiction over the case of a retired Minnesota carpenter revealed in an Associated Press investigation to be a former commander in a Nazi SS-led unit, according to a decision released Thursday.
The Federal Court of Justice said in its ruling that 95-year-old Michael Karkoc's service as a commander in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion made him the "holder of a German office" — giving Germany the legal right to prosecute him even though he is not German himself, his alleged crimes were against non-Germans and they were not on German soil.
Someone in that role "served the purposes of the Nazi state's world view," the court said.
The decision represents "a big step forward" in the case against Karkoc, said Thomas Will, deputy head of the special federal prosecutors' office that investigates Nazi crimes, who handled the initial case in Germany.
Will referred the case to the court late last year after concluding in his own investigation that there was enough evidence to pursue murder charges against Karkoc, who has denied the allegations against him.
Will's office has no powers to file charges itself, and the federal court in its ruling referred the case to Munich prosecutors. They will now examine the evidence again to determine whether to charge Karkoc and attempt to have him extradited from the United States.
The German investigation was prompted after the AP published a story last year establishing that Karkoc commanded a unit accused of burning villages filled with women and children, and lied to American immigration officials to get into the United States a few years after World War II.
A second story uncovered evidence Karkoc himself ordered his men to attack a Polish village in which dozens of civilians were killed, contradicting statements from his family that he was never at the scene of the 1944 bloodshed in Poland.
Polish prosecutors are also investigating, but the U.S. Department of Justice has refused to say whether it is, citing its policy to neither confirm nor deny whether an individual is under investigation.